KAGAWONG— The tragic story of the untimely demise of Daniel Dodge, heir to the Dodge family fortune of automobile fame, continues to resonate more than 75 years after his death by drowning during his honeymoon in the late summer of 1938—and his ghost is said to wander the Kagawong community where his family’s palatial lodge still stands, albeit in a somewhat reduced circumstance.
Perhaps his immortal spirit pines for the lost embrace of his beloved Laurine (nee McDonald), his wife of barely 13 days, a local telephone operator whom he married against the wishes of his family, or perhaps it was the unbearable pain of the dynamite explosion that had ripped apart his arms and which led him to jump from the speedboat racing towards medical attention and his death that has chained him to the location of his last earthy home—or maybe it is the continued use of a familiar form of his name that retains his angry spirit. In local lore his is, and will likely always remain, ‘The Danny Dodge Story.’
“He hated the name Danny,” confides Rick Nelson, curator of the Old Mill Heritage Centre. “It is somewhat ironic that he will probably be best remembered by that name instead of Dan or Daniel.”
The Old Mill Heritage Centre has a permanent display on the Danny (apologies to his restless spirit)…Daniel Dodge Story. “We also hope to have a display this year honouring the 100th anniversary of the company founded by John and Horus Dodge,” said Mr. Nelson. “We are just waiting to hear from the Chrysler Museum to see if we can secure a bit of Dodge stuff.”
Mr. Nelson travelled to the “epicentre of the Daniel Dodge story” in Detroit, visiting Mr. Dodge’s mausoleum at Woodland Cemetery and a TVO documentary on the story, hosted by Steve Palin, can be viewed at the Old Mill Heritage Centre display.
Mr. Dodge was one of the lesser known millionaires of the 1930s, noted Mr. Nelson, but he was known as a bit of an adventurer and daredevil. “That is why he loved Manitoulin Island,” said Mr. Nelson. “The Island was still pretty remote in those days.”
Daniel Dodge’s mother came from humble beginnings, noted Mr. Nelson, and he said that she was very much against the marriage of her son to Ms. MacDonald. “She ran a boarding house and her husband ran a bar,” he said. But the rags to riches story of the Dodge brothers propelled her into the forefront of America’s self-made millionaires.
Her son chose to marry the love of his life, however, and the couple came to the family lodge on Maple Point to celebrate their honeymoon.
According to reports at the time, Mr. Dodge found a box of dynamite in the garage at the lodge and was exploding sticks of the powerful explosive for an afternoon’s diversion when tragedy struck.
Mr. Dodge had tossed one stick out the garage doors and had lit a second when his newlywed bride and two caretakers appeared in the doorway. The young daredevil attempted to toss the stick out the window of the garage and away from the trio in the doorway, the explosive bounced back into the garage and exploded, injuring both himself and the unwitting onlookers.
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Although the blast had severely injured Mr. Dodge (rumours at the time suggested he lost his arms) subsequent medical examination of the recovered body suggested that his injuries were not so severe and that he most likely would have recovered had he reached medical attention, but fate was not to be so kind to the reckless youth. Mr. Dodge, Laurine and the two caretakers were being transported to medical care through rough waters in the family’s speedboat when Mr. Dodge was tossed from the vessel by the lurching boat.
On a normal day the trip to Little Current would have taken 40 minutes, but this day the waves were swelling to four feet and the winds were against the trip. It was about the halfway mark that Mr. Dodge apparently stood up with his foot on the bulwark and was tossed into the water, although the other passengers attempted to rescue him, Mr. Dodge sank beneath the four foot waves rendering rescue impossible.
His body was lost for several weeks and the family posted what was for the time an incredibly huge reward of $15,000 for its recovery. As time passed, the desperate wealthy family even hired a submarine that was shipped to the Island by rail, but just before it was launched Mr. Dodge’s body was found.
Rumour mills being what they are, unkind stories began to circulate suggesting Mr. Dodge had been tossed from the boat to drown. There was no evidence to substantiate any such slander, however, although the family did try to contest Ms. Dodge’s inheritance, the courts found no evidence of foul play and she eventually inherited the lodge and a $2 million fortune.
Ms. Dodge eventually remarried (to the plastic surgeon who repaired the damage she sustained from the accident) but it was to prove a short and unhappy union. She remarried again, this time to raise a family, to Captain John Van Ettin of Indiana. Ms. Dodge eventually sold the Maple Point property, as none of the relatives were apparently able to recover the happy atmosphere of their Manitoulin retreat shattered by the accident.
As for Daniel Dodge, his story has continued down through the years. Stories of a ghostly figure resembling Mr. Dodge have been reported by numerous people through the years, particularly during times when the story recurs, such as a recent McDonald-Dodge reunion held on the Island.
“It was around the time of the reunion about three years ago, there was a meet and greet,” recalled Billings Councillor Sharon Alkenbrack. “During the middle of the night I looked up to see this figure standing in the doorway. He had on these funny round glasses and was wearing this green khaki shirt.” The figure bore a striking resemblance to photographs of Daniel Dodge.
Mr. Nelson had his own experience of a ghostly nature. “I was delivering cedar logs to the lodge with Brad McKay and we piled the logs up in a pyramid,” he recalled. They were discussing the story of Mr. Dodge when the eerie event took place. “We were just about to leave when the pile just exploded,” he recalled. “The logs all came tumbling down.”
The Daniel Dodge Story has inspired two local writers to pen a screenplay about the story, as well as a pre-story and sequel that follows family members after the tragedy. John Hawk and his partner Debra Wilson became fascinated by the story and their screenplay has been picked up by a production company.
“Right now everything has been budgeted,” said Mr. Hawk. “Now we are just waiting to find the money to make it happen.”
Mr. Hawk described the Dodge story as a “real Downton Abbey” tale of America’s richest scions, compete with scandal, trials and tribulations and the machinations that come along with being nouveau rich and mingling amongst the most powerful people in North America.
Their latest screenplay, ‘The Pharaohs of Detroit’ follows the story of John and Horus Dodge’s rising fortunes in the automotive business from 1880 to 1920.